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Two new BHS damsels named to honor two diving divas

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It’s an honor and a great pleasure to announce the recent description of two new BHS endemic damselfishes, named after diving divas Maurine Shimlock and Dr. Ellen Gritz. The two beautiful new fish species were previously considered geographic color variants of the damselfish Chrysiptera oxycephala, but genetic analysis by our colleague Dita Cahyani from the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Centre has shown conclusively that the Cendrawasih Bay and Raja Ampat populations actually represent separate species.

With this genetic evidence in hand, my colleague Gerry Allen and I were delighted to describe the gorgeous lemon-yellow damsel from Cendrawasih Bay after our dear friend Maurine Shimlock. Given Maurine’s tireless efforts to explore and promote the Bird’s Head, and especially Cendrawasih Bay, naming a Cendrawasih endemic after her seemed a most fitting tribute! As an added bonus, this fish is common on the shallow reefs of Cendrawasih – which means Maurine won’t need to dive to 70m (where many of our new species finds come from nowadays!) to see her piscine namesake.

Chrysiptera ellenae – Ellen’s damselfish, found on shallow protected reefs of Raja Ampat including Wayag and Ayau lagoons, Kri lagoon, and the karst channels of SE Misool. MV Erdmann photo.

Chrysiptera ellenae – Ellen’s damselfish, found on shallow protected reefs of Raja Ampat including Wayag and Ayau lagoons, Kri lagoon, and the karst channels of SE Misool. MV Erdmann photo.

Similarly, we were also very pleased to be able to name the new Raja Ampat damsel Chrysiptera ellenae in honor of Dr. Ellen Gritz – a world-renowned cancer researcher who also happens to be a good friend and a generous supporter of the Bird’s Head Seascape. This seemed a particularly appropriate fish to name after Ellen, given its beautiful blue coloration (Ellen’s favorite!) and the fact that it is a sibling species to C. maurinae (Maurine and Ellen have been diving buddies for years!).

Life history stages of C. maurinae, where the neon blue crest in the juvenile gradually disappears to reveal a gorgeous lemon yellow adult. Photos GR Allen.

Life history stages of C. ellenae, showing the gradual change from neon blue juvenile to greenish-blue adults. Photos GR Allen.

Life history stages of C. ellenae, showing the gradual change from neon blue juvenile to greenish-blue adults. Photos GR Allen.

Both of these new species are found in close association with branching coral colonies on shallow sheltered reefs. This includes the majority of Cendrawasih’s mainland reefs for C. maurinae, and mostly lagoonal areas (such as the lagoons of Wayag, Ayau, Kri and SE Misool’s Mesempta karst channels) for C. ellenae in Raja Ampat. Both species also show significant colour changes over the course of their lifetime; C. maurinae has a neon blue upper body and bright yellow lower half as a juvenile, but over time the blue gradually disappears and the adults are bright yellow. By comparison, C. ellenae exhibits a striking neon blue juvenile phase, gradually changing to a more greenish-blue as it matures.

With the addition of these two new species, the total count for the Bird’s Head rises to 1759 reef fish species recorded, including 1563 species from Raja Ampat, 1044 from Cendrawasih, and 1053 from the FakFak-Kaimana coastline. Perhaps 2016 will be the year we break the 1800 species mark for the Bird’s Head! In the meantime, if you’re fortunate enough to be diving in Raja Ampat or Cendrawasih this year, keep a lookout for the latest two endemic fishes from the Bird’s Head!

For more information about Bird’s Head Seascape visit www.birdsheadseascape.com.

Dr. Mark Erdmann's work largely focuses on the management of marine protected areas, as well as research on reef fish and mantis shrimp biodiversity, satellite tracking of endangered sharks and rays, and genetic connectivity in MPA networks. Mark is the Vice President of CI’s Asia-Pacific marine programs, tasked with providing strategic guidance and technical and fundraising support to focal marine programs in CI's Asia Pacific Field Division, including especially the Bird's Head Seascape and Pacific Oceanscape initiatives, as well as marine programs in China, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Samoa and the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI). Mark is a coral reef ecologist (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley) who has recently moved to New Zealand, and previously lived and worked in Indonesia for 23 years. During his time there he launched and directed the Bird’s Head Seascape initiative for over a decade, developing it into one of CI's flagship marine programs globally. Mark is an avid diver and has logged over 10,000 scuba dives while surveying marine biodiversity throughout the region, discovering and describing over 150 new species of reef fish and mantis shrimp in the process. He has published over 140 scientific articles and four books, including most recently the three-volume set "Reef Fishes of the East Indies" with colleague Dr. Gerald Allen, and has been a scientific advisor to numerous natural history documentary films for the BBC, National Geographic and NHK. Erdmann was awarded a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation in 2004 for his work in marine conservation education and training for Indonesian schoolchildren, members of the press, and the law enforcement community. Though his work is now largely focused on the management of marine protected areas, his continuing research interests include reef fish and mantis shrimp biodiversity, satellite and acoustic telemetry of endangered elasmobranch species, and genetic connectivity in MPA networks. In recent years Mark has devoted significant time to supporting the Indonesian government in its efforts to improve conservation and management of its sharks and rays, including the designation of the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary in 2014. Mark maintains a research associate position with the California Academy of Sciences, supervises several Master's and PhD students at the University of Auckland, and is active on the boards of a number of NGOs working in the Coral Triangle, including Yayasan Kalabia, Reef Check Indonesia, and Manta Trust. Mark and his wife Arnaz and three children (Mica, Brahm and Cruz) live in Auckland, where he maintains a deep personal commitment to do whatever is necessary to ensure his children will be able to enjoy the same high-quality underwater experiences that continue to provide the inspiration for his dedication to the marine environment.

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

The world’s 12 best places to snorkel with whales

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Whales have captivated our imagination for centuries and snorkeling with whales is one of life’s best experiences. Whether you want to meet them in the tropics or under the Arctic sun, there is a whale adventure for you. Here is our guide to the world’s best places to snorkel with whales.

HUMPBACK WHALES

Humpback whales are found at destinations worldwide, making them easy to spend time with. These huge whales are known for their spectacular breaches and complex song and are just as rewarding whether you watch them from a boat or get in the water.

  1. Tonga

If you want to snorkel in clear blue waters with humpback mothers and their calves, visit Tonga. It is one of the most popular places to swim with humpbacks, where you can choose from day safaris or longer trips. Just make sure you book early so you don’t miss out.

When to go: July to September.

  1. Moorea, French Polynesia

French Polynesia is the perfect place to combine a luxurious getaway with a humpback whale swim safari and world-class snorkeling. There are endless snorkeling spots, beautiful beachside resorts and numerous whales. If you want to try scuba diving for the first time, the diving in Moorea is ideal for beginners. The reefs are pristine, the waters are sheltered, and you can swim with Moorea’s famously friendly stingrays whilst you’re there.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

The Silver Bank marine reserve provides a safe winter haven for the North Atlantic humpback whale population whilst they gather to mate, calve and raise their young. There are various liveaboard operators that offer multi-day safaris dedicated solely to learning about and swimming with these charming whales. This is a great option if you want to immerse yourself fully in the world of whales.

When to go: January to April.

4. Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

UNESCO-listed Ningaloo Reef hosts tens of thousands of humpback whales each year and is also a migratory route for dolphins, dugongs and manta rays. Lacking the crowds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, it is the most peaceful place to swim with humpback whales in Australia.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia

Hervey Bay – the world’s first World Whale Heritage Site – has been called the whale watching capital of the world, thanks to its abundant humpbacks. This conservation-focused destination is just a 3.5-hour drive north of Brisbane and offers day trips to swim with the whales.

Time your trip right and you can also enjoy the annual Hervey Bay Whale Festival and Paddle Out for Whales.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Reunion Island

Réunion lies 550 km east of Madagascar and is a lesser-known humpback whale hotspot. With only a handful of people allowed in the water at any one time, it is a great destination for more intimate whale encounters.

When to go: August to September.

  1. Iceland

Iceland’s rich waters are a prime feeding ground for humpbacks and offer a unique whale swim experience. Wearing a cozy dry suit, you can spend hours admiring these whales in Iceland’s incredible gin-clear waters.

When to go: June to August.

 DWARF MINKE WHALES

These pint-sized whales grow up to 8 meters long and were only discovered in the 1980s. They might be relatively new to the whale watching scene, but they are wonderful to swim with.

  1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Known for being exceptionally friendly, dwarf minke whales create truly memorable encounters as they swim around you, under you and sometimes even between your fins.

Hop on a minke whale safari at Cairns and enjoy. Go snorkeling or try Great Barrier Reef diving whilst you’re there to experience the incredible wonders of this enormous reef system.

When to go: June to July.

SPERM WHALES

Weighing up to 50 tons and reaching 15 – 20 meters long, sperm whales are one of the most sought-after and impressive whale species to swim with.

  1. Dominica

The sheer drop-offs and deep sheltered bays around Dominica are perfect for sperm whales, and the females and calves stay there all year. After just a short boat ride from the coast, you will be swimming with these amazing animals in calm azure waters.

When to go: Year-round, though November to March is peak season.

BLUE WHALES

Weighing up to a staggering 200 tonnes, blue whales are enormous, and there are two great places you can swim with them.

  1. Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the only places where you can swim with blue whales, watch them from a boat, or go whale spotting in small airplanes – which is arguably the best way to get an idea of their sheer size.

When to go: March to April.

  1. San Diego, California

Baja California hosts the largest population of blue whales in the world every summer and there are a small number of operators that offer blue whale swimming safaris from San Diego. With small group sizes and week-long programs, they are perfect for maximizing your time with these huge whales.

When to go: June to October.

BELUGA WHALES

Beluga whales are easy to recognize thanks to their bright white coloring and rounded heads. These highly social animals are one of the most vocal whales and gather in large groups in Canada.

  1. Churchill, Canada

Tens of thousands of beluga whales gather each year in Hudson Bay and the small town of Churchill offers unique trips to swim with them. You can enjoy close-up encounters with hundreds of belugas in the water, plus spot polar bears, moose, Arctic foxes and more whilst you’re there.

When to go: June to September.

If you can’t get enough of whales, read the SSI guide to diving with whales to discover even more destinations where you can meet these giants of the ocean.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.

 

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Gear Reviews

Tried & Tested: Typhoon International’s Totland Dog Vest

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Typhoon say about their pet flotation aid: “Our Totland Dog Vest is bound to be a hit with canine crew members whose safety is just as important as that of the rest of the family.  The Totland Dog Vest offers the all-important buoyancy in an easy-to-spot bright orange tough coated nylon. 

It is easy to buckle up and has a handy haul out handle and lead loop attachment point, making it easy to help your dog on and off the boat.”

Test Conditions

  • Location: Trefor, UK
  • Temperature: 20 degrees C
  • No of Swims: 4
  • Equipment Used: Gucci the Golden Retriever
  • Test Equipment: Typhoon Totland Dog Vest
  • RRP: £20.95

Review

The Totland Dog Vest is available in four sizes, and having consulted the size chart we went for the XL to fit our big Golden Retriever, Gucci. He is a good swimmer, so for a day at the beach does not need an aid to help him stay afloat whilst chasing his favourite ball, but if we were taking him on a boat we would certainly be using one.

The vest was easy to fit and the neck fitting was padded and looked really comfortable. Gucci certainly put up no complaints at wearing it and was happy to charge up and down the beach with it on. It did not impede his movement (both running and swimming) at all. The handle is really useful for close control, as well as being essential if we were to have to assist him back onto a boat or river bank. There is an attachment for a lead too, so for those who are training their dogs to swim or worry about their recall, a long lead can be attached to let them swim and have fun and still be able to get them back!

The bright orange colour is great to being able to keep track of your dog if they swim further away from you than you would like too. The float kept Gucci nice and high in the water and he was keen to try it out over and over again! It is a tough vest with secure clips giving you confidence that your best buddy would be safe if caught out in a current. We will certainly be using this to give our nervous puppy some confidence as he ventures into the water in the future.

Visit www.typhoon-int.co.uk to see the full range and to find details of your nearest stockist.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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